Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Cleveland Orchestra - Music of John Williams weekend

One of my favorite locations for trooping is Blossom Music Center, the giant wooden amphitheater in the middle of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and summer home for the world famous Cleveland Orchestra.  This year, the Cleveland Orchestra decided to end their summer concert series with a two-night tribute to the movie scores of John Williams, which includes blockbuster hits like "Harry Potter," "Indiana Jones," "Superman: The Movie" and of course the "Star Wars" saga.

photo by: Gina Platzer
Because John Williams’ music is such an integral part of what made Star Wars so popular, the Cleveland Orchestra invited Rebel Legion, Ohio Garrison, Rancor Clan and The Dark Empire to be part of the weekend.  Keep in mind, Blossom Music Center is a HUGE venue (able to host over 23,000 guests) with both pavilion and lawn seating.  Thankfully, we managed to get reinforcements from neighboring Carida Garrison.

Because of the beautiful Labor Day weekend weather people were arriving as soon as the gates opened, many carrying blankets and picnic baskets.  Since it was Labor Day weekend, you can imagine how HOT the weather was for folks wearing heavy Star Wars costumes.  Thankfully, everyone made a point to stay hydrated and we had NO issues with Troopers/Rebels going down due to the heat.

Every time we visit Blossom Music Center is a little different from the last.  This being my FIFTH time trooping at this venue, I tend to look for what separates this one from the others.  What this event had was A LOT of photos taken with guests walking in; which as Obi-Wan would say... “That’s WHY I’m HERE!”

But seriously, I don’t believe that I have taken more “selfies” with guests in my life as I did this weekend – in addition to regular photo ops.  Most of our group was spread out near the main entrance, with a line of people waiting for their chance to take pictures with each small group of characters.  A few of us broke away and walked over to the far pavilion area for a few private photo ops with guests.

As you would expect over a holiday weekend, the Sunday concert as just as busy as the night before. (maybe even more so?)  Another beautiful summer day and waves of guests stopping to take pictures with us as they enter the main gates.  I ended up serving a dual-role as 1/2 Rebel Pilot, 1/2 "traffic cop" -- having to instruct guest where to lineup, in between taking photos, and stopping more then a few "photo bombers" from crashing the line and other people's picture time with us.

As the sunset approached and the Cleveland Orchestra was finished warming up, it was time for our group to head backstage to “the bunker” -- we nicknamed because it does resembles the hidden entrance on Endor -- to change out of costume and enjoy the performance.  I stayed behind (the first night, in my Jedi costume) along with a few Troopers for Intermission, as a pair of TKs “patrol” the stage.  After the concert, there was a fireworks show and what better way to cap off another fantastic summer at Blossom Music Center!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Return of THE FORCE to Akron

Northeast Ohio has a long history of Star Wars-themed sporting events. Long before the Rebel Legion or 501st were in existence, my parents used to take me out to the old Richfield Coliseum to watch The Cleveland FORCE indoor soccer team play.  The Cleveland FORCE promotional staff really played on the popularity of the “Star Wars” films; even had the players enter through a giant inflatable Darth Vader with his foot on a soccer ball.  You know that line in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back when Chris Rock says, "I think George Lucas is gonna sue somebody!" ... well, rumor is, he almost did!

Eventually, The Cleveland FORCE and indoor soccer league folded and the team’s history faded into legend.  That is… until The Akron Rubber Ducks decided to invite Great Lakes Base, Ohio Garrison, Rancor Clan and The Dark Empire to take part in their “The Richfield Coliseum Strikes Back” promotion. 

The Rubber Ducks put a new twist on the traditional “Star Wars Night” promotion that many minor league baseball teams are doing, and incorporating local fans love for the old Cleveland FORCE indoor soccer team.  The Rubber Ducks wore jerseys that resembled the old Cleveland FORCE uniforms, as well as welcomed former FORCE players: Hector Marinaro, Bruce Miller, Otto Orf, Walter Schlothauer and Mike Sweeney.

Seeing these guys brought back a lot of childhood memories for me: the “Star Wars” theme blasting as the players entered the arena, Kai Haaskivi kicking in a goal and the place would go INSANE! Marinaro (pictured above with me) played for the FORCE briefly in Richfield, then later rejoined the second incarnation of The Cleveland Force in the early 2000s.  In fact, my first (unofficial) Jedi costume was at a Cleveland FORCE game.

Unfortunately, the Force wasn’t with the Rubber Ducks this evening as they lost 7-5 to Erie Sea Wolves; despite a grand slam by Jordan Smith.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Julie Billiart SPACE DAY

Anyone with kids or knows a teacher understands the end of the school year is a chance to relax and have a little fun before summer recess.  Julie Billiart School decided to have a “space” theme for this year’s play day, and invited Great Lakes Base and Ohio Garrison to help participate in some of the activities.

Julie Billiart School, in Lyndhurst, Ohio, is an alternative K-8 catholic school, which works with children who have special learning needs. In a way, this school is kind of like the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters from the “X-Men” comics.  As I learned from one of the instructors, the school itself was is housed in a converted mansion. Which today makes these kids X-Wing-Men? (sorry, Rebel Pilot humor)

As it turned out, this was a homecoming of sorts for Fuzzball; who used to attend this school.  Our Jedi alumni supervised the “Yoda Yoga” lesson and other Jedi-themed games the kids were playing.  Meanwhile, I was trained future starfighter pilots before they navigated wheelchairs, dressed up like X-Wings.  The kids would pair up (one steers while the other toss bean bags at targets) while a few teachers and I would shower “asteroids” (balls of paper) as their X-Wings passed by. Meanwhile, our Stormtrooper escorted the groups of students to their respective stages.  At his station, the children would work on their accuracy (ironic, don’t ya think?) by throwing either a 'grenade', a rocket, or using a miniature golf club to swing a ball at a target.  Upon completing all three stations, each 'Jedi Academy student' was given a certificate of achievement.

Many of the kids were even dressed in their Star Wars halloween costumes, and even the ones who didn’t know much about Star Wars were having FUN with all the space-themed games.

It’s tough finding members from volunteer fan groups, who are available for an event request in the middle of a weekday. Yet even a small crew of dedicated individuals can bring smiles to kids faces… and at the heart of it all “it’s what we do!”

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Motor City Comic Con and back again

Motor City Comic Con has been a landmark event since before Great Lakes Base even existed.  Some of my earliest and fondest memories of trooping have involved a roadtrip up to Michigan for the annual comic book convention and assembly of Rebel Legion and 501st members.  The convention has grown significantly over the years and Great Lakes Base has had to grow along with it.

Because of travelling for Star Wars Celebration, for budget reasons Snips and I elected to attend this year’s Motor City in a single day-trip on Saturday; like in the old days.  Early on a Saturday morning, we loaded up the car and plotted our “navicomputer” for the Novi (just outside of Detroit) system.  Driving with a GPS for Motor City Comic Con is somewhat ironic, because after so many years of making this pilgrimage up to the Suburban Collection Showcase (home of MCCC) would be something we could do on memory alone? We probably could… but as a Luke Skywalker fan, “I like to keep it on Manual Control for a while.” 

photo by: Anna Rossman
Once we found parking and get inside the convention hall, the thing that struck me the most is how jam-packed the show floor is with vendors, artist and celebrity guests.  Motor City has always been known for booking a wide selection of guests from your favorite TV shows, movies and even wrestling.  This year, Jeremy Bulloch -- Rebel Legion Honorary Member and “Boba Fett” from the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi – was in attendance.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Bulloch and his wife at several events over the years; but it’s fun to watch the NEW members get to meet him for the first time.  There was even a significant number Ohio Mercs from Rancor Clan who drove up just to see the original Mandalorian bounty hunter.

In addition to meeting some of your favorite sci-fi/comic book stars, another great thing about Motor City Con is the Star Wars fan group area – which Great Lakes Base shares with Great Lakes Garrison, R2-Builders and Suumpir’ade Clan.  Motor City Comic Con has always been one of the largest assembly of Star Wars costumers from Michigan and Ohio – but also nearby Garrisons and Bases from other states.  The group picture on Saturday has become something of an event in it’s own right.  They almost need to include it on the event program schedule.  Anytime you bring close to 50+ Star Wars costumers together in one place, it tends to draw a large crowd of people with cameras.  

photo by: Kristie Johnson

Even after all these years, the Star Wars groups remain a BIG HIT with fans attending Motor City Comic Con!

In between photo shots and running to get in line for your favorite guest autograph or panel, the other great thing about Motor City Comic Con is that it is a chance to meet fellow GLB and GLG members that you normally only interact with on the boards or facebook.  As I talked with some of our newest GLB members, it occurred to me that many of the people I remember from past MCCC conventions have long since retired from Star Wars costuming.  I don’t mention this as a “sad” thing (quite the opposite) because it means these NEW generation of Rebel Legion members are just beginning to build their own “Motor City Comic Con” memories!  And that is something I look forward to driving up next year to hear about.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Dudas Abides

I have been doing this “Star Wars” thing for a long time!  Have been trooping with Rebel Legion for just over 10 years; longer if you count the days under the banner of the local Fanforce chapter.  As a result, there are certain events (and hosts) which have become not just annual tradition – but in some cases, long-time friends.

The Free Comic Book Day midnight release party at Carol and John’s Comic Book Shop is one of those times!

Free Comic Book Day is a nationwide initiative to promote reading, where comic book publishers issue special editions of popular comic books that are FREE (hence the name of the event) to pickup at comic shops and libraries all across the country.  What makes FCBD at Carol and John’s so unique is that they host an annual celebration the night before, with local comic fans lined up around the block, leading up to midnight when the doors open and fans can be the first to pickup their FCBD comics.  I’m 100% serious: there are people lined up as early as 4:00pm for comic books that will be available al over Cleveland the following morning.

photo courtesy:
Yet it’s NOT just a race to get your hands on the latest comic book that makes FCBD at Carol and John’s so special… it is the party-like atmosphere that draws the “true believers” to Kamm’s Corner; and that’s where we come in.  Every year, John Dudas (the “John” in Carol and John’s) invites Great Lakes Base, Ohio Garrison, Rancor Clan and joining us this year was Heroes Alliance to help entertain the crowd waiting outside.  As you’d expect, we take A LOT of pictures with people; many of them wearing costumes of their own.  Over the years, I’ve start to recognize faces in the crowd, because of the loyal following Carol and John’s has among the comic book community in Cleveland.

GLB "Mission Photos" - Carol and John's FCBD

At 10:00pm the “official” party begins!  In addition to the store being open late, Carol and John’s also uses an empty store as an “artist’s row” – with various local comic artists selling sketch art they create that evening.  There is also an art gallery, with comic book related artwork, available for sale.  Carol and John’s also works with local brewers to create special craft beers for the occasion; this year’s bottles were themed after the release of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Eventually, the clock strikes 12:00 and fans pickup their favorite FCBD comic books!  I have been trooping FCBD at Carol and John’s for as long as I can remember and look forward to it every year!  John Dudas and Carol (his mother) are two of my favorite people to work with in planning events in the “Cleveland” system. Only 51 weeks to go until Free Comic Book Day 2016…

The Dudas Abides!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Rockin' Yuri's Night

I have been trooping at Yuri’s Night since 2009, since the event first started in Cleveland.  As a kid who grew up a fan of both a Star Wars and NASA, this event is one of those dream trooping opportunities where I can enjoy both hobbies at the same time.  That is why I never pass up a chance to bring Great Lakes Base, Ohio Garrison, Rancor Clan and R2 Builders to the Great Lakes Science Center!

photo by: Joe Sokol
Yuri’s Night Cleveland is part of a worldwide celebration of space exploration; named after Yuri Gagarin – the first human to launch into space (April 12 th, 1961).  It also is the date of the first Space Shuttle launch back in 1981.  The event is also known as “World Space Party” in some places.  The event held at Great Lakes Science Center is covers all three floor of the museum, where guests can enjoy food, drinks, dance floor with live bands and DJs, as well as full access to the museum and NASA Glenn Visitor’s Center (located inside GLSC)

While many guests dress up in sci-fi or space-themed costumes, everyone is amazed when they see our crew of Star Wars characters walking around.  However, once again it was ScottyK and his R2-D2 who stole the show!  Being a Rebel Pilot, I love working with his R2 droid because it presents the opportunity to have a little fun with the guests as I play-acting "talk" with R2-D2 for everyone to hear… and Scotty (just a few feet away) can use his remote controls to move the droid to respond back to me.  Meanwhile, there are Stormtroopers, Jedi, Mandos spread out on every floor of the GLSC interacting with guest and posing for photos.  Honestly, once R2 has his line of photo requests next to the Skylab 3 module, my night consists of patrolling the museum checking on the rest of our crew.  Also happens to be a nice excuse to explore the GLSC! ;)

photo by: Joe Sokol
 This was a busy weekend on the Cleveland lakefront, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (next door to the GLSC) was kicking off their Induction Week festivities; with FREE admission and a fireworks display off the deck of the steamship William G. Mather, docked between the two museums. 

After about three hours in costume, most of our guys change over into street clothes and enjoy the party!  Following the traditional balloon drop and march of the “Sam Adams" (one of the event sponsors) cardboard cutouts onto the dance floor, it’s time we make a discreet exit after yet another successful Yuri’s Night Cleveland.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Folly of TK-421

Now that the official announcement for Celebration Art Show has gone public, I am pleased to report that Chris Trevas will be one of the featured artists!  In fact, not only is the Michigan native and his latest work: “The Folly of TK-421” going to be available during Celebration VII… but we can now report that several members of Great Lakes Base were used as reference models by Chris while conceptualizing this particular piece of art.  I had the chance to speak with Chris about this, once the “Imperial blockade” on information was lifted.

AWRI: What inspired you to bring a previously unseen moment from the SW saga such as "The Folly of TK-421"to life?

CT: I always wondered what happened off-screen during that scene.  While working on various Millennium Falcon technical books, like the Haynes Millennium Falcon Owner's Manual, I would imagine different scenarios while looking at the floor plan of the ship.  What was the best way to ambush two pairs of Imperials as they came on board?  I pictured Chewie coming from the rear engineering area and Han from the cockpit side, their unsuspecting targets caught between them.  The smuggling compartments are the perfect place to hide the bodies of course!

AWRI: Fun fact = You held a small photo shoot during our GLB 5 year anniversary celebration where you used GLB members Kieron Dillon (as Han Solo) and Chris Blackstock (as Chewbacca) reference models.  How helpful was it for your creative process to have a pair of Rebel Legion costumers to visualize the scene in real-life ahead of time?

CT: It's extremely helpful to have detailed reference especially for a piece this large.  I first planned out the scene with 6-inch scale Black Series figures to get the basic perspective and composition down.  Shooting the action with live models I can work it out in more detail and really bring a scene to life.  Their accurate costumes let me get the lighting, fabric folds, Wookiee hair, and all the other little details just right.

AWRI: Celebration VII is big opportunity to have your artwork exposed to a wider audience, how would you rank "The Folly of TK-421" in your collection of work?

CT: It's hard for me to pick favorites from my work, but I'm very proud of my Celebration print series from the last few years and I think The Folly of TK-421 is a worthy successor to the others like “His Vision Returns” and “The Hunter and His Prey.”   Star Wars Celebration is usually the only convention I set up at so I spend a lot of time planning and doing my best work for the Art Show.